My discontent with Christianity in the 21st Century

History will record photos like this one as marking a dark time in the West

One of the very real downsides of growing older is that I’m often tired, and this puts a strain on everything in my life. It’s not so much a physical exhaustion as it is a mental one, and for someone who’s always thinking, it can be taxing. I grow weary of taking the time to explain every nuance of the things I believe, and this is also reflected in a growing agitation towards people. It’s “get off my lawn” amplified, for which a nap is a quick, if temporary, solution. And, a nap, it can be said, is a waste of that most precious of commodities, time.

It’s enough to make a grown man go berserk.

The discomfort for me is very real. I’ve studied and meditated on a few core principles about life, and the entirety of my thinking is connected, which produces sweeping proposals for the culture. Going back and reproducing this in order to justify a single conclusion is impossibly complex and weighty. I’ve been studying for decades as a professional observer. Therefore, what may seem a matter of illogic to the reader is, in fact, quite the opposite, for I’ve learned to always cross my Ts and dot my Is.

Therefore, I give up. No more attempting to persuade people, because people don’t want to be persuaded. At least not by me. I’ve decided that it’s time for me to stop trying to explain everything and simply call ugliness, well, ugliness.

Christians who voted for Donald Trump, because they thought he was anointed by God for the task have created a real mess for our culture, because the beliefs they’ve been fed are absurdly false. The only cultural mandate from the mouth of Christ is that we love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Anything beyond that makes the foolish assumption that artificially righteous behavior is more important than something so mushy as love God, love your neighbor. To these false Christians, sinning today is a potential block to their “real” reward, an afterlife in Heaven, not Hell (wait, am I supposed to capitalize that?). Make no mistake. The issues important to this group are those already defeated by the culture but not in the minds of these zealots. Those issues appear to be righteous causes, but the reality is they’re all wrapped around the need for evangelical leaders to have power. That’s idolatry. Demonizing those deemed different in any way is a key element of their success, and they breed fear amongst their followers in so doing.

We’ve switched from being salt and light to becoming the chef Himself.

I have no reason to think that the current culture war will not eventually be won by the liberals, for that has been our pattern historically. Conservatives begin the fights over what they view as a loss of cultural control, but they offer only tradition and myth as solutions. As long as everybody goes along, things are fine, but it’s those who wish to somehow correct the deeds of history that move the culture forward. All one needs to do is read Stephen Prothero, whose book “Why Liberals Win The Culture Wards (Even When They Lose Elections),” is a historical guide to the ongoing battles between liberals and conservatives over the direction of our society.

“Conservatives initiate a war by rallying an anxious electorate to a “cause.” Capitalizing on fear and frustration, conservatives often win the elections but, surprisingly, almost always lose the culture wars. Why? Because they choose causes that are already lost.”

They are too stupid (ignorance is fixable; stupid is forever) to accurately gauge the prevailing logic used by conservatives. That logic is bogus. For example, nobody is “for” abortion. Nobody is “for” unsafe neighborhoods. Nobody is “for” unchecked influxes of people who don’t look like them (unless it’s to do jobs the conservatives won’t). Nobody is “for” massive taxes, although most believe the rich should pay their fair share. They don’t in a conservative world view, for giving them tax breaks allegedly increases the chances they’ll create new jobs. And, of course, nobody’s “for” blocking prayers in schools; we just don’t want them to be from the marketing experts with right-wing Christian groups and organizations whose motives cannot be trusted. Such is it with those who preach that the only thing that matters about life is that you’ve reserved a place for yourself in Heaven when life has ended (through them, of course).

To these people, it all makes perfect sense. They cast their votes with the rich and powerful and against the very same poor their faith instructs them to uplift. I don’t care how many babies one is trying to protect, how much one insists that the old days were better than today, how many times one expresses their fear of foreigners, or how much one wiggles their finger at what they perceive as sexual sin, it doesn’t change the reality that these all form the self-centered core of unbridled bullshit.

I mean, really. How do normally intelligent people not see what’s really taking place? The President’s corporate welfare package disguised as a tax cut benefitted only the silk stockings, and what have we to do with them? The $1.9 trillion gift to the rich turned into, amazingly, a $1.9 trillion U.S. debt, for which we are all responsible. And yet, this deceived mass smiles an accomplishment smile in the name of saving babies, prayer in school, the Ten Commandments (including number 8), the license to continue their political action with their 501©3’s, and, of course, unconditional support for Israel despite all the evidence of human rights violations in the name of Zionism.

I’m tired of criticism that’s not based in reality, even when it comes from really good and well-intentioned people. The prevailing logic — the grand narrative — of the Christian community is denied, despite rock solid evidence to the contrary. When arguments that are nothing more than propaganda are presented in defense, these people hunker down, because they’re told that doing anything else is contrary to God. Like Thomas Paine said, “It’s like administering medicine to the dead.” This is the paradox of the Christian Right, that those who defend the actions of the president are the most likely to deny the actual words of Jesus found in the New Testament.

Here’s Prothero again discussing the culture war between Protestants and Catholics two centuries ago that turned violent.

During the Protestant Reformation, Protestants had distinguished themselves from Catholics by their mantra of sola scriptura. Whereas Catholics claimed that Christian authority resided in both scripture and tradition, Protestants insisted on the authority of the “Bible alone.” Given this legacy, it should not be surprising that virtually every American public school in the early nineteenth century taught the Bible not as literature but as truth, and not only as truth but as “the fountainhead of morality and all good government.” One of the core objectives of public schooling was to create moral citizens. But the only way to instill morality was through religion, the only true religion was Protestantism, the only sure foundation for Protestantism was the Bible, and the only real Bible was the Protestants’ King James Version.

Sound familiar? It should, because we’re still dealing with it today, the difference being that the propagandists have their own distribution platforms for public information now, so the dung heap being stirred is a very old and smelly one, because it’s been dead for two hundred years. People, for the most part, are completely unaware of this period in American history, so they feel a sense of pioneering in trying to right their perceived wrongs. It’s not pioneering; it’s good old-fashioned American bigotry rearing its ugly head, and if allowed to continue, it’ll result in the same kind of bloodshed we had (in the name of God) two centuries ago. Philadelphia — ironically the City of Brotherly Love — was the epicenter of discontent. Hundreds were killed, and the Catholic Church had to temporarily shut down to avoid even more gunfire and death.

As Murrow so eloquently stated, “We can deny our heritage and our history but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.”

Welcome to the fruit of our denial.

On Being Human

Courtesy, the brilliant Nick Galifanakis.

Long ago, I made peace with the idea that ALL humans really want and need the same thing: to do the best we can with what we know. It’s the same in the physical, in the psychological, and in the spiritual. There’s nothing whatsoever “wrong” with this; it’s a healthy part of human nature.

And, in terms of judging the behavior of others, this is a wise position to take, because it strikes at the heart of what motivates people. We want to help ourselves, our families, our communities, and beyond. That only some are able to do this well is the thing that’s really wrong with our world under the sun. Sadly, these few are the ones with the dragons capable of raining down terror on the rest of us. Dracarys!

Those who associate with a God of their understanding — as a part of their teaching, training, and faith — fully grasp the significance of helping the poor and the afflicted among us. Chaos ensues, however, when even a few of these get the idea that helping others means personal loss to themselves, or even more deceptively, that the poor are somehow “out to take what’s ours.” This stance puts us at odds with God, no matter which religion we pick. It ought to concern those who do so, but it doesn’t.

For, no matter how we play it, those who are stuck in the rut of competing for what they believe to be “theirs” are at odds with others who are more giving. As a friend recently said, “It’s not a piece of pie.” Helping others is a natural behavior for humans, one that runs into conflict only when we put our spiritual selves on hold while we pursue getting what we can to better our physical lives. This produces the takers in a world of givers, and they are an abomination before God.

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you, rich ones, for you have your comfort!”

It’s a lot easier on all of us to view the realities of life through the veil of wanting to do the best we can for ourselves and our families. This knowledge (or is it a belief?) has a way of injecting compassion into those who are aware. Everybody seems to agree with the principle but not with how to bring it about throughout the planet. Resources to accomplish the task appear to the uninitiated as a zero-sum game and one that requires that I take from somebody else in order to satisfy my own wants and needs. Once I’ve accumulated “mine,” I might be able to turn my attention to somebody else. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The fear that somebody else “might” take away my piece of pie is a powerful motivator to maintain the status quo, no matter who gets stomped on in the process. This, again, is human nature gone to seed, revealing the hidden motives of selfishness and self-centeredness. And, if this is to be our stance, we are sad and to be pitied.

Those who know God, however, understand that His approach is for us to give of ourselves first in order to be filled fully via the spirit with what’s best for us afterwards (See: The parable of the garden hose). This is foolishness to the world under the sun, but those of us who also fully inhabit the spiritual see the wisdom of such an approach. God is fully committed to the poor, and that includes Jesus. You can’t go very far in reading the Bible until you encounter this truth.

And, this is why the Republican approach to religion is so off-putting to me. To them, social justice is a major weakness in governance, and why Trump puppet master Steve Bannon said in 2017:

“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the democrats.”

This is a crude albeit correct description of Republican Party Politics, because it seeks to benefit the status quo and by extension, the wealthy and the haves. The sole strategic thrust of the Democrats ought to be how their opponents only speak for the wealthy and the filthy rich, and the bones they toss to white evangelicals — like abortion and religious freedom — are only offered to ensure a larger support base. Republicans, quite honestly, could give a crap about fetuses being aborted. The litmus test for conservative judges is not abortion; it’s how business-friendly they are. The price conservatives demand is support for the wealthy, and since a lot of these preachers consider themselves in that category, the match is perfect. Moreover, the wealthy give money to big churches and ministries (it’s called a tax write-off).

And, no preacher worth his salt wants to turn that down, right?

This business of being human can give us all fits, not just the poor and the afflicted, so how are we supposed to judge others? the Bible says we should “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

They’ve taken the human idea of doing the best for ourselves, our families, and our communities and turned it into selfishness.

And, it’s not pretty.

The Twelve Absolute Beliefs of Trump Christians

Evangelicals pray for President Trump through the laying on of hands

The postmodern exercise of deconstruction is a useful tool when trying to understand any of the various complexities of contemporary life. It’s especially useful today in the determination of why a large and polarized group of Americans — white evangelical Christians — could have put Donald Trump in office. As is often the case, the complex is merely the simple turned on its head by the self-serving justifications of those who benefit from the complexities. By deconstructing these characteristics, the deconstructor looking for answers can ask better questions in their quest.

The relationship between President Trump and these Christians is something I understand particularly well, for I once served the cause as Executive Producer of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. The core discovery in my book The Gospel of Self is that Trump’s election was no accident but a carefully conceived and executed long-term strategy of the Christian Right. This knowledge is essential as we face another election involving this same man and his flock. Try as they may, the press is simply incapable of seeing what’s really taking place, because it involves the belief that these Christians get their marching orders directly from God. Arguing against their beliefs, therefore, places one in an argument against God, which is then laughingly dismissed by the faithful.

So, let’s deconstruct the grand narrative that places white evangelical Christians in a most powerful position in our politics. In order to pull this off, these twelve specific and absolute beliefs must ALL be in place:

  1. Salvation means that one’s final destination is eternity in Heaven, and demonstrative belief in Jesus as savior is the ONLY path to salvation. Period. Behavior in the here and now, therefore, must line up with what’s required to maintain that promise. However, occasional bad behavior doesn’t necessarily mean loss of salvation, because it’s all based on faith alone. This opens the door for basically any kind of behavior, for there’s always God’s promised forgiveness.
  2. The human condition defaults to corruption and requires a spiritual conversion in order to rise above it, to prosper, to live in peace with ones’ neighbors, and especially to enable a comfortable place in the afterlife. This is the why of Christ, and no one can escape it.
  3. The saving power of Jesus via the born again experience is the how of Christ, a manifestation of faith. These are “the elect,” Heaven-bound believers who are in fellowship with one another and with God. Again, this leaves room for behavioral lapses, because this same Jesus is good for forgiveness in the end. This is often the justification for oppression and evil in the name of God.
  4. These beliefs, according to white evangelical Christian thinking, must be held between individuals and God, for Jesus functions directly in the role of high priest for our confessions. Therefore, one’s penchant for mischief doesn’t require redemption from anyone within the church, which puts the onus for participation between the believer and God Himself (yes, God is a He). This also puts into play the significance of the “personal relationship” with Jesus and, by default, the importance of the individual in God’s mind. That’s not to diminish the role of the pastor in pressing these beliefs, but church members are constantly reminded that God speaks directly to individuals. Our job is to have “ears to hear.” White evangelicals believe it’s the responsibility of the individual to “work out his own salvation,” and therefore the correct response to poverty is to teach others how to feed themselves rather than feeding them through any human institution. “If I can do it without complaining, so can they.”
  5. We must, as Martin Luther did, acknowledge that the Epistle of James is impossible to blend with evangelicalism and therefore think of it as “the Epistle of Straw.” This means we can dismiss James’ main concern that “faith without works is dead.” Either the “just shall live by faith” or not, evangelical thinking goes.
  6. The Bible is the actual Word of God (well, except for maybe James) and to argue with it, as a whole or in part, can and often does lead to eternal damnation. And, again, this is a responsibility of the individual, for no one but God has any real authority over the believer.
  7. Following Jesus is the real determinator of happiness and contentment in this life, no matter what. This allows the believer to feel justified in looking down his nose at others from even the gutter. It feeds the pride that he is actually better off than those at the top of culture’s ladders, those who don’t need God for success and happiness. After all, the Bible says “the last shall be first.” It’s another promise directly from God to believers and the source for manipulation by those higher up the pyramid of human life. The believer is supposed to be perfectly content in this life, because life in heaven afterwards is worth the suffering of the elect.
  8. We are currently living in “the end times” — Jesus return is imminent, as in the next few minutes kind of imminent — wherein Christians must use extremely good judgment to guard against false teachers who would lead the elect to destruction. In order to recognize these false teachers (having “eyes to see”), the believer must have God’s help through men who have “knowledge of the times” as determined by God’s Holy Book. These are then equipped to truly interpret God’s will in analyzing current events through the true eyes of the Word.
  9. This is evidenced largely by the return of so-called promised lands to the Jews (which happened with the 1948 Nakba, forcibly removing the current residents, a.k.a. the Palestinians). Moreover, the real prize for Israel is Jerusalem, which is both the why and the how of looking the other way as Israel does whatever it wants to the human beings standing in the way of their promised place of privilege on the earth. Jesus, you see, is coming back via Jerusalem. Hence, nothing else matters, not really.
  10. Liberal theology is a manifestation of end times living and, therefore, should be dismissed as heresy, the devil, or the “broad road” that leads to destruction.
  11. Donald Trump is another special gift from God to the elect, much as the Biblical King Cyrus was to ancient Israel, and he was elected to restore the (evangelical) church to its rightful place atop the patriarchy of all human institutions. In this way, the (evangelical) church represents the rightful leaders of the earth and must, therefore, assume positions of power at all levels under the sun.
  12. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, one faces the likelihood of eternity in the fires of Hell, if they don’t vote and vote for the conservative candidate (who is therefore bound to act against the murdering of babies through abortion). This is a risk the white evangelical Christians aren’t prone to take.

In her brilliant October 2018 essay for Sojourners — “Getting Over The Threat Of Hell” — Author Nancy Hightower writes that Donald Trump exploited this fear in his run to the White House.

If you have never believed in hell, it’s easy to mock the idea as ludicrous, or at least very archaic. Many who may have grown up in a faith household and left might remember the fear it instilled in them…I think it’s time to suggest that the Christian focus on hell is helping to drive evangelicals into Trump’s camp, and keeps them there.

And so, we’re now beginning to see mainstream news articles that tout the rise of angry liberal Christians. CNN published an article with the headline “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left,” which uses the mayor’s candidacy as one example of evidence that not all of Christianity is under the spell of the white evangelicals.

“©onservative provocateur Erick Erickson started attacking Buttigieg, implying that because Buttigieg is Episcopalian — a denomination known for its more progressive positions on social issues — “he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”

This is a common trope among some evangelical Christians on the right, impugning other more liberal Christians as somehow less “real” or authentic in their faith.”

I must admit to a certain joy upon reading all this, because the 2020 election will put the faith of Americans to the test. It’s not nearly as exciting a story as the horserace coverage (in the minds of the press), but it’s a highly-relevant discussion we’ve needed for a very long time. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are labels long used by theologians to assert theological differences of opinion, and it needs to form the basis for our understanding of politics as well.

Historically, culture wars in the United States have all had a foundation in religion, and we now have a chance to move it to the front burner in terms of issues facing democracy itself. Nobody understands this better than Professor Stephen Prothero, author of Why Liberals Win The Culture Wars (Even Though They Lose Elections). Whether it was the election of 1800, the mid-ninetieth century assault on Catholics by Protestants, the anti-Mormon campaign, the debates during the Scopes Monkey Trial, the battle against Supreme Court decisions of the 70s and 80s, or the current battle against Muslims, Prothero argues the outcome of culture wars historically favors the progressive perspective even though they were started by conservatives.

Donald Trump is an evil man with evil intentions, for his only true “accomplishment” as President is widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. He placates these right wing Christians, because he knows their support will be lasting if he does, and just because he does, it does not follow that he is a “Godly President,” as some believe. The culture cannot stand this for much longer, and the discussion of faith as the dominating factor in this election badly needs to be center stage. Perhaps debates involving Buttigieg will help, for he seems not only willing but capable of speaking on behalf of his faith.

It’s true that traditionally we’ve considered a person’s religion to be a private matter and, therefore, untouchable in terms of debate. This was a part of the election of a Catholic in 1960, putting John F. Kennedy into office. Today, that position has overstayed its welcome, as Trump Christians publicly flaunt their man as God’s answer to prayer for America.

It will take directly challenging these twelve beliefs, so the discussion must involve those who think theologically but speak in plain English, and that will rule out a press that believes such discussions are not a part of its sphere of legitimate debate.

And that is to its great shame.

It’s not Donald Trump; it’s his followers!

GOD-REPUBLICANOne of the main themes of my new book, How Jesus Joined the GOP, is that the biggest threat in the current political debate is not those who lead but the angry mob that follows. Here’s an excerpt from chapter two, The Gospel of Self:

Of the many reasons given for the distrust and dislike for fundamentalism in religion, nothing makes a more compelling argument than the intolerance that such narrow thinking breeds. Ignorance and prejudice bred in the comforting broth of selfishness produce a form of narrow-minded bigotry so pure that it baffles observers outside its pot while self-validating the swirling vortex of falsity within. The trapped souls inside express a perplexing form of contentment that, despite evidence to the contrary, frames a contemptuous “knowing” reserved only for those who share their “inside” knowledge. Their defense against conflicting intellectual arguments is usually based on the self-righteous position of real or imagined persecution, which allows them to ignore reality in the name of faith…

…The obvious conclusion about these intolerant people to most observers is that leaders with selfish interests easily manipulate them, which results in attacks on those leaders by non-believers. Such a position, however, only strengthens the beliefs of the followers, for they are driven by their faith, each other, the personal and direct connection they share with the God of their understanding, an absolute conviction that they are Heaven-bound after death, and their own sense of manifest destiny in this life. Moreover, their support of leaders isn’t top-down, as most contemporary observers would contend; it is, rather, bottom-up, and this means that leadership is interchangeable. Let me repeat that intolerance comes not from the leaders of the movement but rather from those followers whose lack of perspective, study, knowledge, opportunities for study or knowledge, or intelligence produces remarkable and dangerous consequences. The leaders, especially early leaders, certainly share culpability for this mess, but an open-minded argument with such often reveals differences in the messages given and those received. The followers believe they “get it” and enter into conversations with family, friends, co-workers, church members, and others. This will not and can not be overcome by any top-down means. Intolerance, therefore, is the floor covering of the ground level — those who seek validation for their views and resonance with leaders who speak their language…

…As the twenty-first century moves along, this bottom-up conservative leadership paradigm has at its disposal a weapon so powerful that the hierarchical status quo is having great difficulty being heard above all the noise.

It’s the Internet, with its remarkable efficiency in allowing person-to-person communications, and a convenient conduit for the furtherance of the Gospel of Self. Human nature is on display for all in the world of the network.

It’s my belief that in the current circumstances involving the candidacy of Donald Trump, it accomplishes zero to wax on regarding his character, his history, or even his behavior, for the ears of the angry mob are closed to such. They support him, because they hear themselves in his candidacy and nothing else. Like sheep, they hear the voice of their master, but unlike sheep, that voice comes from within the flock. Max Lucado and other notable Christians have come out this week essentially labeling Mr. Trump “unChristian,” but it won’t make a difference, for, again, the ears of the angry mob can’t hear such reasoning.

Whether it’s the press or Evangelical leaders, modernist logic (and history) won’t work against what is essentially a postmodern problem. How does one manipulate those of the Great Horizontal in such a way as to GET them to see the danger of Donald Trump? One doesn’t, and that’s the real problem here. It’s too late, and besides, it must be accomplished horizontally, and that is not in the skill set of political players today and certainly not the press. The best these groups could do is ignore him, but that’s not going to happen. The louder they holler, the better they fit the beliefs that the mob has about them in the first place.

A great many people are in a panic mode, including some of my friends. “It’s the end of the Republican Party,” I’ve read. Well, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing right now. Maybe it’s so run off the rails that it needs reinvention. Let the right wing have their own party, so that we can differentiate. Who really knows? That’s what I’m trying to say. We just seem hell bent on keeping things as they are despite the proof before our eyes that the public is sick of it.

So here’s my advice for all the people who are squawking about Donald Trump. Create yourself some memorable memes that reflect understanding of “their” issues and seed them throughout social media. Let somebody besides Mr. Trump speak in their language about what’s troubling them. Take them seriously.

You cannot change the bottom from the top anymore. Best to wake up to that truth today instead of tomorrow with President Trump.